Vitamin A: The Good, The Bad, The Top 3 Aliases

Vitamin A. We love it, we hate it, or we want to love it but it hates us. We hear so much about it in ads and it’s even prescribed a lot! If a doctor is telling me to use it, then that must be the BEST formula…..right?! The answer is a non-comittal, maybe?? It just depends!

Let’s jump in quickly to why we need it. Our body doesn’t produce Vitamin A, but it needs it, especially in the form of Retinoic Acid. So we have to be the supplier of Vitamin A through diet and topical application. Our cells ultimately need Retinoic Acid to “proliferate” (i.e. reproduce and increase). Considering that our skin thins as we age, increasing cells makes a huge difference for us looking for a great anti-aging ingredient.

Vitamin A is used in 3 main chemical equations, topically. I’m going to give you the breakdown of the “strongest,” then the primary “weaker” form, and then (my favorite!) the fence-sitting, in the middle form.

Tretinoin is straight up Retinoic Acid. It comes in various base vehicles, such as gels, creams, etc., but it’s chemical equation creates the most direct and highest activity in the cells. This is why it’s available by prescription only. So, this MUST be the BEST then? For some clients, yes; tretinoin quickly forces the skin to comply. However, it does have a couple major disadvantages as a result:

  1. Working quickly and aggressively, the skin often shows inflammation and irritation, causing you to discontinue using it. (If you don’t use something, it definitely doesn’t work!)
  2. If the dosage is too high, you will receive marked improvement at first, but ultimately if too strong, the skin will start drastically thinning with prolonged use (minimum of 12 months).

That leads to Retinol, which is available in prescription and OTC formulations. Retinol works by converting into Retinoic Acid. Retinol is therefore shown to be 20 times less potent than Tretinoin, according to the National Institute of Health. For years, I have encouraged the use of Retinol, describing it as “a Retinoic Acid molecule with a straight jacket on.” It has been great because we see results (they take longer, but they are there!) without all of the irritation of Tretinoin.

While I prefer Retinol to Tretinoin because of it’s lack of irritancy, my (newer) favorite is Retinaldehyde or RetinAL (note the “AL”!) I have been mistaken with my “straight jacket” analogy for RetinOL, as that actually applies to RetinAL. (Confused?) RetinOL has 2 straight jackets, RetinAL has 1 straight jacket.

Straight jackets are my term for conversions. So! RetinOL converts to RetinAL(dehyde), which can then change back to RetinOL (if the skin can’t handle it yet) OR converts to Retinoic Acid! Mind Blown.

Retinaldehyde eliminates a step in the process, giving better, quicker results, without the irritating side effects. Best of both worlds! Great for anti-aging, acne management, and is a great partner to other youthful anti-oxidants! As always, feel free to stop in or email with any questions: tarrah [at] ameliagrayskincare [dot] com.